You should really hold the baby like this, talk to him like that, play with him this way, feed him that way . . .”
The list of rules I had for my husband’s relationship with our son was a mile long and twice as deep. Not that I knew it at the time. I was just excited to share everything I’d learned from reading all the right books, consulting all the right experts, and taking all the right classes. Not only had I prepared myself to be a top-notch mother, I had also prepared myself to teach my husband to become a top-notch father.
Having grown up in a chaotic and unpredictable home, I vowed my adult life would have order and direction. Unfortunately, instead of creating a home where my husband and I could enjoy calm and serenity, I had become a dictatorial taskmaster. Everything was neat, orderly, well-maintained—and miserable.
The Root of My Fear
I wish I could tell you this behavior was short lived and isolated, but I would be lying. My need for control, which reared its ugly head while my husband and I were dating, grew into a fully formed monster once we were married. How did I let this happen? I went from a social butterfly to the “fun police,” making snarky remarks before my husband went out for an evening with friends and turning a cold shoulder when he returned. Once regarded as the “personal cheerleader” for my group of friends, I was now the professional eye roller, dismissing every success my husband had at work as trivial or lucky.
Gone was the go-with-the-flow girl, replaced by the taskmaster, assigning projects according to my schedule and huffing with disappointment when my hazy requests didn’t produce perfect results. I thought I was just being helpful. I thought it was my responsibility to hold it all together.
My need for control in every situation, fretting over every problem, and deciding to do most things myself so they would be done right were all an attempt to deal with being uncomfortable. Unsure. Fearful.
Growing up, I often assumed an adult role out of necessity, especially after my parents’ divorce. I found that I was good at taking charge, and this steamroller technique was quite effective for putting myself through college and working in the corporate world, but it no longer served me well, and it certainly wasn’t helping my marriage.
It took a heated argument for me to see my husband’s side of things. One day he just exploded with emotion. It wasn’t volatile or inappropriate, but it was heartbreaking. He finally told me that I had been emasculating, dismissive, alienating, and just plain unkind. Though I loved my husband, I had been treating him like an insolent child.
My solid plans? My expert research? My commitment to being the perfect wife and mother? I had become the exact opposite of what I’d hoped to be.
Prayer, counseling, and support groups have taught me to be self-confident without having to be right. I no longer feel that I am wholly responsible for my home. Sharing my struggles and my progress has connected me with other women who face a similar challenge. Many of us share a common regret: “But I was just trying to make everything better.”
Only when we can relieve ourselves of that burden do we see that there is room enough in a marriage for two adults.
Treat Your Husband as an Adult
A mutual friend has confided that while he loves his wife, he often feels like a fourth son. “I’ve stopped making plans with friends,” he told me. “She is completely in charge of my schedule. It’s just easier to wake up and get my to-do list from her than to argue.”
Men crave respect. And this particular wife has that for her husband. She does not belittle him in mixed company or gossip about him behind his back. She is a devoted homemaker and by all accounts truly loves her man. Yet to ensure her home runs smoothly, she treats her husband more like a child than a partner. I know. I used to do the same thing.
No man wants to live with a captor or a master; they want a partner. And partners don’t always have to be attached at the hip. Treat your husband with the respect you would want for yourself.
Let Go of Grievances
“Let It Go” isn’t just a song for children—it’s a mantra for marriage. I had a bad habit of building a case against my husband. In any argument, I would produce my well-categorized evidence of his shortcomings and missteps. I was set on convincing an (imaginary) jury of my peers that he was guilty and I should be vindicated. This is a common behavior many women struggle with, even though Colossians 3:13 tells us to forgive one another as the Lord has forgiven us.
Dredging up the past is another way to control our spouses. Since I was subconsciously worried my husband would leave me for someone better, I protected myself by reminding him of times when he failed. First Corinthians 13:5 says that love keeps no record of wrongs, but I did.
Marriage isn’t a contest. It’s not about being better, looking better, or sounding better than your spouse. How sad for me that I thought this was a way to keep my husband. When I was able to release resentments and hurts I had held onto for too long, he was too.
Create a Partnership
No one likes to be bullied in their own home, yet that’s exactly what we do when we insist on controlling every decision from what’s in the pantry to what time we leave for church on Sunday morning.
There are lots of problems with putting yourself in charge of everything, and the biggest one is that it creates resentment. No self-respecting adult can be made to ask permission for everything they do and not become bitter.
When a wife finds her husband doing something she has deemed off limits and attacks him with the words “I told you!” she proclaims herself to be the only adult in the house—the decision maker, the leader, the warden.
Yes, wives are often the caregivers who notice when the household is out of balance and changes must be made. But initiating a conversation about important, healthy adjustments is very different from insisting that things be done your way.
When my husband told me he felt he no longer had a voice in our relationship, my knee-jerk reaction was to hand over everything in my charge and sulk. But eventually, we learned to give each other room to shine in our areas of strength. We each have departments where we take the lead. He heads up finances, homeland security, and the department of transportation. I take the lead on education, health and human services, and arts and entertainment.
Today, I am a wife, not a watchdog. I do not always agree with my husband’s point of view, nor he with mine, but I listen to his ideas without cutting him off or egging on an argument. There is plenty of room for both of us in our marriage—a marriage in which we are bound in (almost) perfect unity.